College in the 80’s was going to be a wonderful period of my life. Finally free of my backwoods podunk high school, rife with mouth breathers, I was leaving all the cruel shitty characters in my review mirror. The ones I particularly wanted to shake off was a group of guys who made it very clear I was a substandard female and not dating material. See ya suckers.
My new school in a big city was going to be fantastic, and not at all like the place I came from. I embraced the punk and alternative beat that coursed through our campus. I had pink hair and army boots. So cool.
Oh and my new friends! I couldn’t believe how different they were and how diverse this place was. I made my first openly gay friend who wore eyeliner. That would have gotten him kneecapped at my high school, but here he was just another interesting beautiful person.
I couldn’t have been more thrilled with my new circumstances. No curfew, independence, a cadre of avant-garde friends and dance clubs playing Billy Idol. I had finally found my place.
Then one day in the student lounge, I saw him. He was with a group of sporties (you know, the entitled jocks who thought we punk rockers were unshowered freaks). They sat there jostling each other just talking jock shit when I noticed a shiny musclebound boy wearing a t-shirt with a whale cartoon on it. “No fat chicks.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I called him out on it…. in front of his friends…. because I am an idiot with no sense of self-preservation.
My eyeliner friend stood with me. I was enraged that this shit had followed me to what I thought would be a bastion of acceptance. I was so convinced that I could strip myself of the constant messages that made me feel ugly, fat, and less than, but here it was. It followed me. No army boots or pink hair was going to change a thing.
The abuse that followed for both of us was devastating. Fat and Fag. That was who we were now. The mocking smug faces of these underdeveloped boy/men still come to me in bad dreams. The derision was not even the worst part. It was the glee that vibrated through their veins at having a target, a weaker mammal to bat around before the death blow. Then it came. He got in my face smiling, I could smell he had a hot dog for lunch. He pointed to his shirt. “No Fat Chicks! Got it bitch?” Then one of his now emboldened friends spoke, “No fags either.”
I spent a good deal of time skulking around, avoiding them the rest of the year. Over time, my friend and I, and our little group of odds and sods took our space in the student lounge, but well away from the Lacoste golf shirt crowd.
This was not the first or the last time somebody felt I deserved their broken-ass emotional shit dumped all over me. I see it for what it is now, but back then it wounded and devastated me.
We’ve all had these experiences. There was the time a guy looked a friend right in the eye and as if he had just realized it, said, “Fuck, you’re ugly.” Or the girl in grade 8 whose own mother constantly reminded her how she compared to the skinny, blonde girls in the neighborhood. That time the store clerk approached my cousin as she walked in the door and said “Sorry we don’t carry over a size 11.”
So when I saw the boy with the whale t-shirt I could not tolerate being subjected to those messages for another minute. Yet when I put myself out there in protest, I was smacked down. The messages are stronger than me.
If any one thing has come out of these experiences it is our rage which has created a space of hate in our soul. We could go to therapy, but the truth is that these experiences are so numerous and so entrenched in our souls. Rather than fight them, we use them to propel ourselves forward.
There is one small bit of karma that I was fortunate enough to witness. Years later, I visited my home town. I had largely stayed far away and was busy with life. I had a great job, a fiance and owned my own home at age 24. By all measures, I felt I was building my life by following my own blueprint, and in an odd way, the outrage I had experienced in my life was brewed down to a fuel that launched me.
I decided to go to the town pub with some old friends. As I looking around, I noticed a figure slumped over at the bar. He was clearly smashed. His head tipped on his arm loosely holding on to his glass, but could have passed for unconscious. He was a football player at my old high school and one of the ones who considered me undateable. I knew without seeing his face because he was wearing his ten-year-old tattered and dirty letterman jacket. The worst years of my life were his best, and they were over for him.
He may have rejected the thought of dating anybody who was not a cheerleader in high school, but he would have done well with me at his side. I will admit to feeling some schadenfreude at this little scene.
To the kid with the t-shirt, I should have kicked you with my army boots. Fat chicks are strong.
To my first gay friend: Richard, I know you faced way worse in your life, and I hope you made it.
And for all the people who projected their mean-spirited insecurities on us: Fuck you.